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  • NYS Writers Institute

Happy Birthday Joan Didion

Joan Didion, circa 1977. (Colorado State University Archives)

Today is the birthday of novelist and essayist Joan Didion. One of the most important writers of her generation, she was born December 05, 1934, in Sacramento, California, and died from complications of Parkinson's disease at her Manhattan apartment on December 23, 2021.

Didion published Slouching Towards Bethlehem, a collection of essays, in 1968, and her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2005 and was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 2013, she was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama.

A professional writer for more than 50 years, Didion once said, “I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” In an essay titled “Why I Write” published in the New York Times in 1976, she wrote:

“In many ways, writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions — with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating — but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.”

Didion was in the news last month when an auction of her estate saw bids selling for thousands above the estimated prices. Her iconic faux tortoiseshell Celine sunglasses sold for $27,000. A set of her blank notebooks sold for $9,000. A stack of Didion’s books – from her bookshelves, not ones she’d written – sold for $26,000.

The auction, held by Stair Galleries in Hudson, Columbia County, raised more than $1.9 million. Proceeds were donated to patient care and research of Parkinson’s at Columbia University, and to the Sacramento (Cali.) Historical Society to fund a scholarship for women writers.


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